Volkswagen engineer indicted in US emissions case

NEW YORK, USA – A Volkswagen engineer was indicted in Detroit federal court Friday, September 9, and pleaded guilty for his role in developing an emissions-cheating device installed on a half-million diesel cars sold in the United States.

James Liang helped develop the diesel engines equipped with illegal emissions test "defeat devices" from the earliest stages, the indictment said. 

Liang, 62, is expected to cooperate with US prosecutors developing a criminal case in the Volkswagen scandal, a person close to the case said.

"Almost from the beginning of VW's process to design its new 'clean diesel' vehicles, Liang and his fellow co-conspirators designed these VW diesel vehicles not to meet US emissions standards, but to cheat the testing process by making it appear as if diesel vehicles met US emissions standards when, in fact, they did not," the Justice Department said in a 24-page indictment.

Liang worked on the defeat devices from November 2006 while at Volkswagen headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany.

He then moved to California for the company in 2008 as Volkswagen ramped up its marketing of its ostensibly "clean diesel" cars with high fuel efficiency in an effort to win greater market share in the US.

Liang and other VW employees developed a complex software system to keep emissions low when a car was undergoing testing to demonstrate environmental compliance, but to allow them to spew higher emissions on the road while boosting fuel efficiency, the indictment said.

Liang and others consistently misrepresented the system to federal and state environmental regulators and lied about the issue when regulators probed the discrepancy between the cars' testing and real-world emissions performance, the indictment said.

"Liang and his co-conspirators attempted to make it appear that there were innocent mechanical and technological problems to blame, while secretly knowing that the primary reason for the discrepancy was the defeat device installed in every VW diesel vehicle sold in the United States."

Liang faces a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison and a fine up of to $250,000. 

A Volkswagen spokeswoman declined to comment on Liang's employment status or on the indictment, but said the auto giant "is continuing to cooperate with the US Department of Justice."

Volkswagen settled civil cases in June over cheat devices on two-liter engine diesel cars sold in the US in an agreement valued at $14.7 billion that requires it to buy back or fix vehicles, and pay each owner up to $10,000.

A federal judge in San Francisco gave preliminary approval to the plan, which settles with owners of some 480,000 cars with two-liter diesel engines. 

The German automaker has until October 24 to come up with a fix for some 80,000 cars with three-liter diesel engines equipped with the defeat devices, or face trial.

Volkswagen has faced global condemnation since US and California state regulators exposed the emissions-cheating conspiracy in September 2015. 

The European Commission on Monday, September 5, urged member states to crack down on Volkswagen for violating consumer protection laws, while Australia's consumer watchdog filed suit against the company on September 1.

Some analysts have estimated the scandal could cost the company $30 billion or more. – Rappler.com